Since bringing Excite Inc. public in 1996, investment bankers at BancBoston Robertson Stephens never let their relationship with the company lag.
And their dedication paid off when Excite tapped the investment bank as sole adviser on its $6.7 billion stock swap with At Home Corp., announced this week.
"We have had a continuous dialogue with Excite right from the beginning," said Bob Emery, Robertson Stephens' chief operating officer.
The deal-the largest Internet merger ever-would be almost three times bigger than Robertson Stephens' next-largest M&A transaction, advising Monsanto Co. on its $2.4 billion acquisition of Dekalb Genetics Corp. last year.
It also is a coup for BankBoston Corp., which bought Robertson Stephens from BankAmerica Corp. last year for $400 million in cash plus a $400 million employee retention package.
Since bringing the Internet company public, Robertson Stephens has advised Excite on its strategic partnership with Intuit Inc. and helped the company spruce up its shareholder rights plan. Last year the firm co- managed Excite's secondary stock offering with Morgan Stanley.
The firm won a role in the At Home deal partly because it has remained highly focused on technology, said Robert C. Hood, executive vice president and chief financial officer of Excite in Redwood City, Calif.
Robertson Stephens' investment bankers also blended well with Excite's fast-paced culture. "They are highly charged people. I feel like they are moving through life at the same speed we are," he said.
Robertson Stephens partly came into contact with Excite through the investment bank's long-established ties to Silicon Valley's venture capital world-a major funding source for young technology companies-including the prominent Internet financier Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.
Kleiner Perkins of Menlo Park, Calif., once owned as much as 12% of Excite and now owns a little more than 4%. It owns a comparable stake in At Home and has members on both boards, though only Kleiner partner John Doerr is to retain his seat on the At Home board.
Also a key: Mr. Emery, formerly Robertson Stephens' head of investment banking and the firm's point man on the Excite merger deal, has maintained close personal contact with high-ranking executives at the company.
Mr. Emery joined Robertson Stephens from Morgan Stanley in 1985, primarily to build up the equity shop's technology and health-care M&A capabilities, which at that time were negligible.
Now advisory work makes up about half the firm's investment banking revenues and roughly one-quarter of its overall revenues, including sales and trading, Mr. Emery said.
Meanwhile, Robertson Stephens' new parent, BankBoston, has had its own relationship with Excite, Mr. Hood said. Excite's CFO said he is close to closing on a $20 million credit facility from BankBoston. He had begun work on the credit before merger talks began with At Home.
Last year BankBoston helped the company establish a commercial banking relationship with a correspondent bank in Australia.
Mr. Hood said his company will benefit from the bank's acquisition of Robertson Stephens. He said he could see working more with BankBoston in the future, tapping it for commercial banking products ranging from employee pension plans to shareholder services, not to mention credit facilities.
"When a commercial bank is trying to evaluate a high-tech company, which falls within the more aggressive credits for them, it helps to be on the inside track with research analysts," Mr. Hood said, referring to Robertson Stephens' technology analysts.
But for the immediate future, high-flying stock prices are likely to keep Internet companies from tapping the credit markets, Mr. Emery said. And he said the high-tech industry, particularly the Internet sector, may be facing a fresh wave of consolidation.
Merrill Lynch & Co. advised At Home on the Excite deal, which is expected to close in three months.